A key rail link – closed by Mrs Thatcher’s government 20 years ago – may reopen if Arriva wins the Trans-Pennine Express franchise.

The company plans to buy 26 new 125mph trains and to reopen Woodhead tunnel along with 20 miles of track to provide a new 35-minute service from Sheffield to Manchester via Barnsley, Penistone and Guide Bridge. That would improve on the present 52-minute journey and provide four trains an hour in each direction.

The scheme - to include park and ride and to allow for freight - could be in operation by 2007 after a